How To Design a Good Workspace

I have a real enthusiasm for workspaces.  I like looking at workspaces,  I like creating workspaces, and I like photos of the places where people create things.  Where and how you work says a lot about who you are.

Rob and I had been looking for a set of table and chairs to fill this nook.  After Christmas we found a place that was offering 50% off hydraulic bar stools (sold!) and a discount on hydraulic tables (sold again!). We created this great space to use for dinner and work.  Rob used a jigsaw to cut a small shelf with rounded corners to extend the window ledge for my plants.

The screensaver on my laptop is Fliqlo, a free app. It kicks in after a few minutes and reminds me of the time. It also fits the monochromatic (and kind of retro) aesthetic I was going for.

I like having a candle burning while I work. Seeing it flicker reminds me time is passing, and it also gives me something nondescript and and interesting to stare it when I’m having trouble solving a problem. Having something alive nearby helps too (Plants in this case. A cat will also do nicely).  If you do feel like leaving the house, it’s nice to work out of a coffee shop or public library for this same feeling of ambient movement and life around you.

Having a teapot on hand is imperative. The one in the photo is from David’s Tea. Usually either Japanese sencha (green tea) or Genmaicha (brown rice tea) are good workfellows for myself, although with Christmas having passed I was given a lot of fun flavours to try out too.

For a snack, I like something like a piece of citrus, or peanut butter on toast with bananas and honey. Food is essential for brainpower!  It’s also a good reward (500 words! You get a piece of chocolate. Good brain).

Clean vs. Clutter:  Everyone is different on this point.  I prefer a decluttered workspace. I’ve found that visual stimulus can easily distract me, and right now less clutter = more focus. There are plenty of famous people who have cluttered workspaces. Some have organized spaces.

Preferences can change over time. For example, check out these shots from 2010 of my room in university:

Can you spot the difference?  I had a this whole hoarders-collage aesthetic going on. Now I find that ‘stuff’ just tends to get in my way, both physically (takes up space/is a pain when you move) and mentally (too much visual noise/too much junk).

I only keep on hand materials related to projects that I’m working on. I throw out as much as I can.  Keep changing until you find something that works for you.

A  good book I recently read on this subject is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing’ by Mari Kondo. It’s literally all about tidying and the art of changing your life through cleaning.

It sounds crazy at first (who is THAT in to cleaning and organizing?) but after I read it I was like, ‘Yes! This is what I was looking for!’

One technique you can use to to create harmony is a simplified colour scheme. For example, the table, chair, laptop, and teapot are all black/white/grey. You can also try mixing one or two colours if black/white/grey isn’t your cup of tea.  Try this article for a basic primer on the science of how we react to colour.

Visual tokens inspire work.  For example, I have my Kobo in eyesight with a book I’m about to start reading. In this case, 99U’s Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Doing Business With Impact.  I wasn’t allowing myself to continue the book until l had written at least 1,000 words. Basically, the carrot and donkey technique.

Other times the token is a picture I really like, or a guidebook to a city I want to visit, or something else that focuses my energy, so whenever I look at it, I’ll be like, “Hell yeah, I want to do this, or fuck yeah, I want to go there.” and that helps keep me motivated and on track.

Working in pajamas is great.
Working in pajamas is great.

Your desktop: In this digital age, most of us have to interact with computers at some point. Chances are you probably have your own, be it laptop or desktop.  How you set up your desktop should reflect who you are the same way your physical workspace does.

Here’s my current desktop. I admit that the current background may be taking it a little too far into meta territory (usually it’s a quote, or something I found by a graphic designer I like). Clean, simple, kind of zen. Same as my physical workspace.

On my dock to the left that I’ve changed some of the regular icons from my apps to custom ones and gone with a muted colour / circle theme. Switching out the icons for your apps is really easy. Here are the instructions for Mac:

  • First, find an icon that you like. There are many sites that offer free icons. Save it.
  • Once you have it saved to your computer, double click to open it up in preview (or right-click + open with preview if your defaults are different).
  • Right-click on the image in preview and copy it.
  • Go to your applications folder and right-click on the app you want to switch the icon for, click ‘Get Info’. (Command+I is the shortcut).
  • In the upper left corner of the ‘Get Info’ pane you’ll see a small version of the current icon. Right click on that, and then use paste.
  • Done! Hurrah. You’ll probably have to restart or re-open the application to see the changes take affect on your dock.

Lighting: Do you like direct overhead light? I know I don’t. I always make sure my workspace is near a window or other natural light source. If I do have to work somewhere with artificial light, I usually try and make sure it’s from a diffused source (like a paper lamp).

My boyfriend is a lighting designer and one really important aspect for him with the furniture in our house is always, “How does it look at night?” He hid two LEDs behind each plant and now our nook looks like a fancy café. It really makes the space pop at night and makes it super inviting.

I’m looking forward to starting 2015 with good workspace mojo.  Happy New Year!

Author: Mel Hattie

Hi, I’m Mel, blogger and tea sommelier at Mel Had Tea. I love to explore, learn, and meet new people. Nothing inspires me more than reading, traveling the world, talking to strangers, and drinking tea.

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